For some children, swimming and sensory integration disorder don’t go together, but they can. As a child, I loved swimming and used to wonder if there were swimming pools in heaven. I can vividly remember the feeling of being underwater on a hot summer day.
The water felt soft and smooth against my skin. I was offered swim lessons at the day camp I attended and so became quite a good swimmer. I eventually became a lifeguard. I actually started swimming at age 3. The technique used by that particular swim “teacher” was to step on our fingers if we grabbed onto the side of the pool. It was sink or swim, literally. I don’t suggest this technique for a multitude of reasons.
For children with various isms and in particular, sensory sensitive kids, learning to swim can be challenging. Their over or under sensitive nervous system can make teaching them safe swimming skills quite difficult.
Some kids may not like the feel of being wet.
Others may not attend to safety rules.
But, it is imperative that children, for their own safety, learn to swim.
In addition, swimming can regulate breathing patterns and can improve sensory processing, coordination and muscle tone. Here are a few tips that may help you and your sensitive swimmer:
If you have a sensory avoider, a child who does not like to get wet, try a couple of dry runs with a swimsuit on. Then, try out the shower before you hit the pool. Just hand them an umbrella and turn on the shower. Yes, have them stand in the shower with a swimsuit on and an umbrella. Next, grab a towel, wet it and drape it over their shoulders. Also, be sure to take advantage of any wet environment: streams, lakes and a rainy day. Get wet with your kids and enjoy the water. Then when it comes time to get in a pool, they will be ready!
For kids who don’t like to go under the water, grab some goggles and go find a baby pool. Let them play in the baby pool with their goggles on, looking for items on the bottom of the pool and just getting used to laying down or sitting in shallow water.
Try tossing items on the bottom of the shallow end of a pool. Have your kids pick them up. This will encourage them to hold their breath and put their face under the water. Once they are comfortable putting their face in the water and holding their breath, they will be ready to actually learn swimming techniques without fear.
Go to the Pool Daily
The more often, the sooner your kids will get used to the water and feel comfortable near and in the pool. Sometimes it can take an entire summer before a child is comfortable around or near the water.
Find a swim instructor who understands your sensory swimmer. Many pools offer lessons for children with sensory needs or have someone familiar enough to teach children with various isms.
Put your phones down. Keep your eyes on your child at all times. Do not depend on lifeguards to watch your children. Make sure your children understand the safety rules, but alert the lifeguard if your child has special needs. This is crucial for the safety of your children as well as the safety of the other children as well.
Enjoy your summer and safe swimming to you and your swimmer!